Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes at the 2010 U.S. Open

Although most avid golf fans have the four days of the U.S. Open marked on our calendars from the beginning of the PGA Tour season, few of us have had an opportunity to experience our national championship from behind the scenes. This past week at Pebble Beach I had a chance to spend some time volunteering on the maintenance staff, and got a chance to see the operation from a totally different perspective. Participating in an event of this magnitude was not only a great experience for a young turf manager, but has been a career goal of mine for many years.

Contrary to what players and television commentators may have said, the golf course was in perfect shape for a U.S. Open. The U.S.G.A. and Pebble Beach superintendent; Chris Dalhamer felt that the golf course was exactly where it needed to be to present the toughest test of golf to the best players in the world. Greens were extremely firm and fast, and several areas of the course had been manipulated (i.e. shaving bunker edges and coastlines down to fairway height, and shifting fairways to change the players line of play into holes) to bring the various design features more into play.

Probably the most impressive thing to witness was the management of the irrigation. The golf course hadn’t been watered with the irrigation system for over two weeks, and the only water that was put on the golf course was done by hand watering. This is not only the most efficient way to apply water to turfgrass, but also provides the ultimate control of where the water is applied. This technique gives the superintendent the ability to provide the firmest playing conditions possible while still keeping the grass alive. (Please note that NBC did use green filters on their cameras, and the golf course was much browner and wilted than it appeared on television.)

The U.S.G.A. mandated that the fairways be mowed all one direction from tee to green to make the fairways seem even faster. While this is probably the most inefficient way to mow fairways, it accomplished exactly what the U.S.G.A. wanted, and made the shaved bunkers and coastlines even more of a factor.

While the greens were fast (pushing 14’ on the Stimp meter) the amazing thing was how fast and firm the approaches were (Stimping at over 12’). This allowed for shots to be landed short of the greens and run up more like a links style golf course. Players were also putting the ball from several yards off of the green due to the extremely tight lies on the approaches.

An event of this caliber is not easily achieved and should not be expected for daily play. For this event there were a total of over 100 volunteers from around the world, consisting of superintendents and assistant superintendents, which brought the number of total staff for the week to nearly 140 professional turf managers. Especially for this event Pebble Beach had 12 interns with college degrees on staff. We were working split shifts with the first shift beginning at 4 a.m. and the second shift not ending until 10 p.m. All told this event has been planned over the past six years and culminated over the four days that we all saw on television.

This was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I feel that I have learned many things about what it takes to provide true tournament conditions. I now have a better understanding of the vast amount of detail and focus it takes to produce an event of this stature, and it makes me want to strive to provide event better conditions for our members and guests on a daily basis.

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